Sûrah XXI
"Bringest thou unto us the truth, or art thou some jester?"


Flown the coop?

Franchone investigates, though he knows already... knew before he reached his top-floor digs. He dumps the groceries, walks half-heartedly out and down a derelict corridor. Aside from a tomcat drinking from the toilet bowl, the communal john is vacant. He returns.

So much for wining and dining the refugee. Just my luck. Could've 'served' Denise. Or dropped by Eartha's for a romp in her single-momma flannel.

He stows the pasta, produce, canned goods and Chianti in a bare-shelved cupboard, pulls a cord to shut the Venetian blinds, then rolls a joint of ganja (from his stash in a hollow wooden fish)... lights up... sits cross-legged... and deeply tokes.

Girl's running scared; I may have underrated what's-his-face; "Almond" I think she called him, Z's purported nemesis—come, she claims, to "kill" her. Sounds bizarre. Farfetched, at least. Though I admit he's one spooky hombre, possibly a nutcase—pun intended. But death threats? Mayhem? Murder?

Franchone inhales...holds the smoke in...then finally breathes it out.

All I have to go on are my egocentric hunches. Me projecting me; the pitfall of self-expression. Is that what being an author is, foisting my perspective on an unsuspecting public prone to swallowing words in print—especially when they're prefaced "based on a true story"? Who's the bigger doofus; the 'fooler' or the fooled?

He takes another toke.

Maybe I'm approaching this all wrong. I need an insight. Something substantive. Or prophetic? Like a brainstorm, deep, profound. Involving characters who are true to life, not props for mere invention. "Do not write with an agenda," pundits counsel. Craft, design, but let the plot and those who people it represent themselves.


a novel
Franchone Pinkney

I first saw Z on a city bus in the fog-clogged streets of San Francisco. She stood out, without intending to. Caught my eye, and then my gaze. But not per usual: boy meets girl, boy makes a pass, girl offhand snubs him. True, it went like that initially. Don't blame her; the cause was me. I hit on women out of habit. Call it "ethno-insecurity." Being Black, I have to overcome the world's worst rep. Which sucks. I'm not a felon, or a dropout, or a drunk, or a deadbeat dad. I don't wear drawers that expose my boxers, snap my gum, gold-plate my teeth. Nor do I smack my lips when I eat or speak at earsplitting volume. Racist, though this city is (like every city in America), "Baghdad by the Bay" is not as bad as most. Seldom, for example, does a woman I stand next to clutch her purse. Unless she's Asian; they mistrust us. As do Russians, Arabs, Sikhs. Ask any other ethnic group to rank the ones they most esteem, and mine, on every list, will come in last.

Getting back to Z, she had a paperback in her lap: The Meaning of the Glorious Koran An explanatory translation by Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall... which I've read (in my 'religious phase,' an affront, of sorts, to my bible-thumper pappy) thus an ideal introduction, had I seized it, to Ms. Nibs, who had this holly-roller force field shooting sparks around her. What I said instead betrayed a less high-minded purpose. Z's physique, though well concealed, was safely in my red zone. Seeking to converse (at first), I shifted gears to scoreindicative of an inbred scorn toward women... legacy of the slave trade; men were robbed of self-respect, the roles of husband, father, breadwinner undermined by "Massah." Women, on the other hand, breastfed babies, cooked, sewed, cleaned, became the nannies, maids, and wet-nurses of the very folks who oppressed them, therefore specialized, as it were, in accepting responsibility—a take-charge mode their men to-this-day resent: Pinkney's Premise For Explaining Black Misogyny (copyright: this minute).

Franchone pauses... reviews, with mild disgust, the page he has just composed... aware it is nine parts him, the tenth part sketching Z.

Here's something telling. I 'deduced' that Z was a virgin; she freaked out, pronounced me "insolent and uncouth." But it was more than my discourtesy that upset her. Pinched a nerve. From which I further deduced she's suffering some kind of post-traumatic syndrome. She had bruises in her eyes when taking me to task. Chances are she's damaged―sexually―if 'virtually' intact. When I massaged her―yes, she yielded to the Patented Pinkney Ploy―I felt residuals from some unnamed, hardcore outrage.

Or she's gay. We played this hide-and-seek of dos and don'ts the whole time she submitted. Women rarely, once agreeing to be rubbed, set boundaries all that strict. So when she armed herself―with a pen, no less, that I, on demand, supplied her―it was clear she wasn't kidding. Misbehave and risk riposte (as if a ballpoint Bic could defend her overrated chastity).

Franchone, ill at ease (the ganja tapping paranoia) reconsiders Z's potential for inflicting bodily harm. A girl, a child could prove destructive, if psychotic. Was Z stable? Was it rash to offer refuge; was it safe to have brought her home? And what about Almond (sic), Z's pursuer; was he dangerous? Treacherous? Murderous? Had he trailed them? Was he lurking, or on the verge of closing in? A siren sounds! Franchone, unused to smoking pot, reacts with panic. The police, he fears, are on their way to bust him. Tense, he chokes. A fit of coughing drowns out what? The siren's blessed decrescendo. He relaxes, then resumes his would-be tour de force.

Politics. Z's a radical. I sure sleuthed out that, right quick. She made this comment: 'Malcolm X, we should have crowned, not Doctor King,' as if the Movement would have fared better under "freedom by any means necessary." Both eye-for-an-eye and turn-the-other-cheek have pluses and minuses each. Wonder if she's right, though; would equality now be ours had we taken arms up then? One thing's certain, Whites have never subscribed to the Christian code of pacifism―and are pleased as punch when Blacks sing "Jesus Saves."

Once again, Franchone reviews the content of his narrative. Once again, it strikes him as self-centered. He snuffs out the joint. After-effects of cannabis ebb and flow within his system, give him confidence then revoke it, make him trust then doubt the voice, its perspicacity / egomania playing tug-of-war, its astuteness contradicted by its biases. Real? Delusional? Worthy of pursuit? Or cotton-candy wisps that naked Truth pragmatically dissolves?


Having written down the title, he examines what inspired it. Like a catchphrase out of context, it just sits there on the page, defying reason yet awakening hosts of vague associations—which their ne'er-do-well creator struggles to unfold.